The world is better off for places like Barcelona. Wines such as Anima Negra AN/2 from Majorca’s red callet grape and Bodegas Palacios Cosme Palacio Blanco 1894 from Rioja’s white viura variety don’t make it onto just any wine list. But at Barcelona Restaurant and Wine Bar, ten minutes off of I-84 in (of all places?) West Hartford’s suburban trendy Farmington Avenue retail district, they sit comfortably on a comprehensive Spanish wine list that rekindles memories of my two favorite Spanish lists in this country; Taberna de Haro in Boston and Casa Mono in New York City.
All three lists have something in common besides size and volume. They hold pricey classic choices like Vega Sicilia, Pingus, and Clos Erasmus while featuring depth in less popular and remote wine growing regions like Bierzo, Majorca, and the Basque country. Wines of great elegance, food friendliness, and unique terroir hail from these hidden spots to challenge juicy modern garnachas, classic tempranillos, and racy monastrells. Great rewards hide beyond modern fruit driven values and classic producers for curious wine adventurers as hungry to learn as I am. On a recent and lively Saturday evening of tapas indulgence at Barcelona, I was reminded one more time that zagging instead of zigging straight to the proven producers can pay large dividends. $110 at the restaurant bought these two magical bottles of wine. You can buy both at retail for $30 and $19 respectively
The wine is a blend of primarily 95% viura, the most popular white variety in Rioja blancos, and then 5% malvasia. News to me, viura is the name used in Rioja for the macabeo variety, more commonly relied on in northern Spain for Cava production. I ordered this wine with memories of tasting my first white tempranillo at a Rioja tasting earlier this year. In this case, the viura/malvasia blend showed a caramelized, lime, and honey nose with hints of toast and cotton candy to lure you in. Most remarkably, the wine lands with amazing richness and contains an acidic linearity to provide structure and framework to the wine’s lusciousness. Cosme Palacio is co-fermented in barrel and aged in oak, but retains a bright fruit core that never yields to the wood. This is an amazingly sexy wine because of its richness and tantalizing aromas, and its great structure gives enough balance to render it a classic choice. I could linger over this wine all night, it’s that good.
***1/2 $19 2008 Anima Negra AN/2
I am a sucker for wines made on islands. Call me silly, but I dream about the isolated terroir, surrounded by water, connected to no other spot. I think about the wines I have tasted from a small island off Sicily’s coast and how it is possible to imagine tasting the salt air, morning dew, and volcanic soils. Or at least I thought I did. So experimenting with this second wine from Majorca’s Anima Negra made from 65% callet, 20% mantonegre and fogoneu, and 15% syrah was an easy move. The fruit is fermented in steel and then aged for a little over a year in French and American oak. It’s a medium light ruby color, with rich and bright cherry aromas buffeted by wafts of tobacco. The wine’s distinction comes in its weight; a softness without hard edge and a fruity lightness that appears to actually melt in your mouth. No major league forward ripeness and volume that you are accustomed to in big garnachas, just a pleasantly round and mellow mouthful of wine that is light on its feet and washes over your palate like it belongs there. It’s a great food wine, and had enough acidity and brininess to stand up to the boldly spiced tapas that covered our table. I am not sure I have ever tasted a wine just like it. It has elements of gamay and pinot noir, but is not like either of them. As the wine lingered in the glass, even some clove and cinnamon spice emerged. It is a fascinatingly complex wine that just wants to please and accomodate your meal. A killer value.